Victims of Memory (2nd Edition)
Sex Abuse Accusations and Shattered Lives
By Mark Pendergrast
Each year, more than a million Americans are convinced by their therapists (or by misguided “self-help” books) that their childhoods were not as happy as they thought—that they harbored repressed memories of horrendous abuse by their parents, other relatives, and even satanic cults. Their identities are destroyed, their pasts rewritten, and their families are torn apart.
Several books have been written about this strange phenomenon, some of them very good, but Pendergrast’s has been consistently acclaimed by reviewers as the most comprehensive, balanced, and readable coverage of the topic. Originally published in 1995, the book was so highly received that a second edition came out just a year later.
PaperbackReduced Price Scuffed Cover
About the Author
Mark Pendergrast is the author of several critically acclaimed books, including Mirror Mirror, Victims of Memory, For God, Country & Coca-Cola, and Uncommon Grounds. His work has appeared in the New York Times, London Sunday Times, Wall Street Journal, Skeptical Inquirer, Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Ethics & Behavior, River Teeth, Holocaust Studies, and elsewhere.
Pendergrast reviews books regularly for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been interviewed on hundreds of radio and television shows and has given speeches throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. Pendergrast is a Harvard graduate with an advanced degree in library science from Simmons College. He lives in Vermont.
His book Victims of Memory is the classic book in its field, the most comprehensive, scholarly work on a disastrous, misguided form of psychotherapy that harmed clients and destroyed families in the name of healing. Under the influence of this therapy and self-help books on the topic, millions of people came to believe that they had been the victims of prolonged childhood sexual abuse, when they had not. This is the book that explains exactly how people can rewrite their entire past and come to believe that the very people that loved and nurtured them were fiendish perverts who abused them. And how it could easily happen again . . . .
What People are Saying
“An impressive display of scholarship…a comprehensive treatment of the recovered-memories controversy…. Pendergrast offers a broader portrayal of the social and cultural contexts of the recovered-memories phenomenon [than other books on the subject]. His treatment is also distinguished by some welcome historical perspective…. Pendergrast demonstrates a laudable ability to lay out all sides of the argument…. [He] renders a sympathetic portrayal of recovery therapists as well-intentioned but misinformed players in a drama that has veered out of control.” — Daniel L. Schacter, Scientific American
“An even-handed treatment that presents all the different positions with empathy.” —Psychological Reports
“Anyone touched by the subject of repressed memories would do well to read this book.” — Burton Einspruch, M.D., Journal of the American Medical Association
“Victims of Memory constitutes the most ambitious and comprehensive, as well as the most emotionally committed, of all the studies before us. Pendergrast’s book stands out from the others in several respects. For one thing, it transcribes his numerous interviews…allowing the cruel unreason of the recovery movement to be voiced with a minimum of editorial mediation. Second, he is the author who delves most deeply into the movement’s antecedents in witchcraft lore, mesmerism, early hypnotherapy, and the treatment of so-called hysteria…. Third, Pendergrast offers illuminating material about physiological states (sleep paralysis, panic attacks) that have traditionally been mistaken for “body memories” of one lurid kind or another. And it is Pendergrast who devotes the most effort to analyzing the contemporary Zeitgeist in which the recovery movement thrives” — Frederick Crews, The New York Review of Books
“Pendergrast has written a well-researched and important book, and his findings should rightfully scare all of us…. Pendergrast tries for evenhandedness, going so far as to offer in-their-own-words chapters by those with repressed memories and the therapists who treat them. But there is also a chapter from the ‘retractors,’ women who have realized that their memories of abuse were only products of their own imagination. Pendergrast’s account of this controversial subject is wide-ranging. He covers everything from the nature of memory and hypnosis to such related forms of sexual hysteria as the Salem Witch Trials to this country’s growing cult of victimization…. His strongest and most effective assaults are reserved for the book The Courage to Heal , the bible of the repressed-memory movement…. Pendergrast makes a strong case that what began as a way to empower women has now victimized them, isolating them from friends, families, and their true memories. This is a book sure to spark a long-overdue debate, and it deserves to be on library shelves, right beside The Courage to Heal.” — Ilene Cooper, Booklist
“Victims of Memory is an impressive account of remembering and misremembering events of vital personal importance. Pendergrast, a distinguished journalist, provides a readable and scholarly treatment of the issues that converge when we consider the mnemonic consequences of childhood sexual abuse. His style is engaging — even riveting…. Pendergrast provides a magnificent account of the evidence and thinking that underlie claims of recovered vs. false memories. His analysis forces us to confront a series of difficult questions about the historical and social factors that operate to create the present accusatory climate. All in all, Victims of Memory should be required reading for anyone interested in understanding the current controversy.” — Peter Ornstein and Catherine Haden,American Scientist
” By far the most thorough journalism done on this issue [the recovered memory debate] appears in Victims of Memory.” — Katy Butler, Los Angeles Times
“Victims of Memory is…a comprehensive study of a disturbing phenomenon which began to sweep the U.S. in the mid-Eighties, reaching Britain in the early Nineties.” — Sarah Strickland, The London Observer
“A much-acclaimed rebuttal to various bibles of the recovered-memory movement.” –Richard Marius, Harvard Magazine
“Victims of Memory traces the roots of a phenomenon that exploded in the late 1980s and is now reaping a thunderous backlash. Pendergrast interviews therapists, survivors and “retractors” — accusers who withdraw their allegations and, in some cases, sue their therapists for malpractice. He explores a variety of contexts for the phenomenon, from Freudian theory and witchcraft hysteria to fundamentalist religion and the modern feminist movement. Informing Pendergrast’s book is a deep sense of social history.” — Joseph P. Kahn, The Boston Globe
“By far the best, most detailed, most accurate, most compassionate history of this tragic witch-hunt is Victims of Memory.” — Martin Gardner, The Skeptical Inquirer
“Explosive material — massive researched and lucidly argued.” — Ann Diamond, Montreal Gazette
“This latest entry on false memory syndrome is the most readable to date….The author discusses why the ‘repressed memory’ phenomenon is so prevalent today and also offers a short history of other psychological fads. Recommended.” — Library Journal
“Pendergrast worries that false accusations will ultimately weaken the case of those who really were violated….Well documented and very readable. All levels.” — V. L. Bullough, Choice
“Victims of Memory is the best exploration I have seen of the social forces that permit the development of a phenomenon such as the ‘recovered’ memories movement….This book is indispensable for anyone interested in the role of psychologists and radical feminists in shaping American culture and the ‘recovered’ memory movement itself.” — Martha Churchill, Transitions
“Victims of Memory remains the best general overview [of the recovered memory debate and ‘Christian’ counselors’ involvement] available.” — Cornerstone
“This is a fascinating and scholarly work…a book of heart, soul, and intelligence. It should be required reading for everyone in any kind of therapy or recovery.” — Sherry Armendariz, Small Press Review
“This book attempts to address the phenomenon of recovered memory in a thorough and comprehensive way, compelling the reader to consider very carefully the scientific evidence currently available about how human memory works, and, perhaps more importantly, how it doesn’t work.” — Karen M. Donahey, Doody’s Health Sciences Book Review Journal
“Though this book is aimed at specific problems, it contains a universal message of folly and tragedy: people tend to see what they want to see, and to find whatever it is they are looking for. If they look for witches, or people possessed by demons, or ‘hidden memories,’ they find them. In searching the chartless depths of the subconscious, the monsters and serpents that can be found are limited only by the power of the imagination.” — Scott Owens, Gannett News Service
“Powerful and impassioned, Victims of Memory should be essential reading for all counselors, clients, parents and children. Whatever side of the controversy you stand on, this book will shake you up and force you to re-examine your assumptions.” — Bruce Wilson, Vancouver Sun
“Victims of Memory is an expose made all the more convincing by Pendergrast’s evident compassion and respect for the suffering of all concerned, from survivors of real incest and abuse to those whose needs, confusion — or therapists — lead them to convince themselves that they, too, are victims…. I find it hard to believe that anyone who reads from one end of Victims of Memory to the other can still accept the sort of virulent nonsense exemplified by The Courage to Heal.” — William Craig, Valley News
“Sensible therapists with a grip on their profession’s limitations helped rescue many of the patients whose case histories Pendergrast documents. But the worst therapists can be found across the board — from ‘Christian counselors’ who might have taken a workshop once and see Satan’s hand behind every neurosis to totalitarian psychiatrists. — Mike Miner, Chicago Reader
“Pendergrast is emphatic on two points. He abhors incest and sexual abuse and hopes that his book will help true victims by weeding out the false. But he compares the research behind repressed memories, some of them ‘retrieved’ through dreams, truth serums, hypnosis and massage, with ‘cultural folklore’.” — Molly Walsh, Burlington Free Press
“According to mental health professionals who subscribe to Pendergrast‘s point of view, [Victims of Memory ] is one of the best-researched, most thorough studies of the theory that memories of a traumatic childhood can be fabricated.” — Anne Rochell, The Atlanta Journal/Constitution
Table of Contents
Foreword by Melody Gavigan
- How to Become a Survivor
The Horror of Real Incest ~ The Search for Lost Memories ~ The Courage to Accuse ~ Other Survivor Literature ~ Emotional Incest ~ Men Can Be Survivors, Too ~ A Textbook for Memory Invention ~ The Academics ~ Ritual Abuse and Multiple Personalities ~ Entering the Mainstream: “The Terrible Truth”
- The Memory Maze
Reconstructing the Past ~ Psychological Turf Wars ~ Repression: For and Against ~ “Proof” for Repression ~ Lenore Terr: Story-Time ~ Miss America and Other Famous Victims ~ Cases of Real Denial ~ Elizabeth Loftus: “That Woman” ~ Wilder Penfield, Karl Lashley, and the Search for the Engram ~ Implicit and State-Dependent Memory ~ Neuroscience and Repressed Memories ~ The Connectionist Computer Model ~ Memory Palaces and Haunted Houses ~ Infantile Amnesia and Preverbal Abuse ~ Common-Sense Conclusions
- How to Believe the Unbelieveable
Hypnosis: Memory Prod or Production? ~ Age Regression: Let’s Pretend ~ Past Lives and Unidentified Flying Fantasies ~ Facilitated Communication and the Human Oiuja Board ~ Dream Work ~ Sleep Paralysis ~ Flashbacks or Visions? ~ Body Memories and Panic Attacks ~ Symptoms: Pickle Aversion and Eating Disorders ~ Drugs ~ Cognitive Dissonance and Group Contagion ~ The Contexts of Insanity
- Multiple Personalities and Satanic Cults
Sybil and Her Traumatized Alters ~ Ralph Allison’s New Frontier ~ James Friesen’s Multiple Demons ~ Diagnosing the Elusive Multiple ~ Manufacturing MPD ~ Dissociative Disorder Units: Terror in the MPD Mills ~ Dissociation and the Absent-Minded Professor ~ Grade Fives, Temporal Lobe Spikes, and Personality ~ Satan’s Minions ~ A Warning from Thigpen and Cleckley
- The Therapists
Sam Holden, Christian Counselor ~ Janet Griffin, MSW ~ Horace Stone, Minister/Counselor ~ Leslie Watkins, PhD, Clinical Psychologist ~ Charlotte Halpern, Psychiatrist ~ Jason Ransom, Body Worker ~ Katherine Hylander, Past Life Hypnotherapist ~ Sally Bixby, Psychotherapist ~ Robin Newsome, Retractor Therapist
- The Survivors
Viginia Hudson, Incest Survivor (letter) ~ Susan Ramsey, Incest Survivor ~ Diane Schultz, Incest Survivor ~ Frieda Maybry, Ritual Abuse Survivor ~ Patricia Delaney, Survivor and Lawyer ~ Angela Bergeron, Multiple Personality Survivor ~ Elaine Pirelli, Survivor Who Remembered Being Impregnated ~ Melinda Couture, Sexual Abuse Survivor and Wife of Accused Father ~ Sally Hampshire, Incest Survivor Who Has Always Remembered
- The Accused
Hank and Arlene Schmidt, Accused Parents, and Frank Schmidt, Their Son ~ Bob Sculley, Accused Father ~ Julia Hapgood, Wife of Accused ~ Dr. Aaron Goldberg, Accused Father ~ Bart Stafford, Accused Sibling ~ Rhonda and Paul Hallisey, Accused by Facilitated Communication
- The Retractors
Olivia McKillop, Retractor ~ Laura Pasley, Retractor ~ Maria Granucci, Retractor ~ Leslie Hannegan, Christian Retractor ~ Nell Charette “MPD” Retractor ~ Stephanie Krauss, Retractor from a Psychiatric Hospital ~ Robert Wilson, Retractor
- And A Little Child Shall Lead Them (And Be Led)
McMartin: the First Day-Care Scandal ~ Research on Suggestibility ~ Abusing Kids in Outer Space and Other Allegations ~ The Fells Acres Nightmare ~ The Rape of the Souza Family ~ Believing the Children ~ Peggy Buckey’s Post-traumatic Stress
- A Brief History: The Witch Craze, Reflex Arcs, and Freud’s Legacy
The Witch Craze ~ Demons ~ The Nerve Doctors and the “Hysterics” ~ Hypnotism ~ Charcot’s Circus ~ Freud’s Mental Extractions ~ Did Freud Lead his Patients? ~ Multiple Personalities ~ Emil Kraepelin and his Patient
- Why Now?
A Nation in Search of a Disease ~ Victims All ~ Pop Therapy ~ The Frantic Pursuit of Happiness and the Boomers ~ Psychics and Exorcists ~ The Women’s Movement ~ Politically Correct Excesses ~ The Fragmentation of the Family ~ Righting Wrongs ~ Media Madness and Sexual Schizophrenia ~ A Concluding Note
- Survivorship as Religion
The Substitute Faith ~ Defining Religion ~ Conversion ~ Ecstatic Religion and the Possessed Shaman ~ Minirth-Meier and the Christian Hunt for Memories ~ Rage and the Worship of Self ~ Bradshaw: The Evangelist of Dysfunction ~ Saving the World ~ Survivorship as Sect ~ Seeing Cults Everywhere ~ Constant Rage Can’t Last
- Conclusions and Recommendations
The Scope of the Problem ~ The Backlash: Whose Back? Whose Lash? ~ Who’s in Denial Now? ~ Avoiding the Truth Trap ~ “Moderates” and Other Therapists ~ The Professional Associations Respond ~ Where the Money Is ~ Therapists Facing the Future: “Flocks of Edgy Birds” ~ Pat Schroeder and the Politics of Recovery ~ The Hazards and Uses of Therapy ~ The Verdict on Repressed Memories ~ How to Tell True from Illusory Memories ~ When a Friend Remembers ~ A Hug is Not Sex Abuse ~ Humans are Resilient ~ Crying Wolf ~ Unwanted Bedfellows ~ Legal and Professional Recommendations ~ To Parents, Children and Therapists
Appendix: Myths & Realities
Excerpt from Chapter 1: How to Become a SurvivorTwo postings on Prodigy, a computer bulletin board:
Jan. 1, 1993. Hi everybody, my name is Gretchen. I am from Germany and in the States for about 16 months now. I am 30 years old, married and after 4 miscarriages in 18 months we went to marriage counseling. I also have a sexual problem, no desire at all. The counselor and a therapist are both convinced that I was sexually abused as a kid, but I don’t remember anything. They said it is probably so bad, that I had to block it out or it would have killed me. Now I am running around and try to remember …. I know I was hit every day, I was the only child. But sexual abuse never occurred to me at all …. God, I have so many questions and hope somebody will answer me and share their experience with me.
Jan. 1, 1993. Dear Gretchen, You’re not alone in this! I had no memories of being sexually abused until about one and a half years ago. About 3 years ago, I started reading books on the subject and every “effects” list described me to a T! I didn’t have any memories, but I just had a really strong feeling that something happened …. When I stopped thinking of memories in visual terms, I started to realize that I was remembering things all the time. Reactions, feelings, panic attacks, fears & phobias are all memories … . Reading books on sexual abuse is a really good way to retrieve memories. Pay attention to what you react to. For example, I was readingThe Obsidian Mirror and she was talking about how her abuser had stuck monopoly pieces inside of her. I had a panic attack when I read that and then had flashbacks of a similar incident happening to me. Books that I would recommend are #1 The Courage to Heal (this is the BEST book–very validating if you have no memories) ….
The widespread search for repressed memories of sexual abuse began to mushroom in the United States and Canada in 1988, and in Great Britain in 1990, with the publication in 1988 of The Courage to Heal , by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis, which informs readers: “Forgetting is one of the most effective ways children deal with sexual abuse. The human mind has tremendous powers of repression. Many children are able to forget about the abuse, even as it is happening to them. ” They continue: “You may think you don’t have memories, but often as you begin to talk about what you do remember, there emerges a constellation of feelings, reactions, and recollections that add up …. To say, ‘I was abused,’ you don’t need the kind of recall that would stand up in a court of law.”
In this chapter, we will examine how The Courage to Heal and other popular books encourage illusory memories of sexual abuse–mostly in women, though an increasing number of men are now recovering “memories.” At first blush, false accusations of incest seem hard to imagine. How, outside of a brainwashing prisoner-of-war torture compound, could people be convinced of such a horrendous delusion, particularly if their relationships with their parents were once warm and loving? How could perfectly normal women come to have vivid memories of fondling and oral sex at the age of three, or frequent sexual intercourse with their fathers as teenagers, or prolonged immersion in satanic sex cults, if these events never took place?
The Horror of Real Incest
Before reviewing The Courage to Heal in detail, it is necessary to understand how and why Ellen Bass, with her collaborator Laura Davis, came to write it. In the 1970s, during the early days of the women’s movement, the horrifying extent of sexual abuse and incest first began to surface, although children had been subjected to such abuse for all of recorded history. Up until then, official statistics claimed a tiny incidence in the general population. In one “definitive” 1955 study, researchers estimated that there were only 1.1 cases of incest per million persons. Even where incest did occur, it was often minimized or even sanctioned by male psychologists. Some victims were told that they were only fantasizing, based on Freud’s presumptions about Electra and Oedipus complexes. Freud thought that all children between ages three and six go through a stage of sexual desire for the opposite-gender parent (see Chapter 10 ).
During Freud’s Victorian era, child prostitution was widespread, with virgins bringing top dollar because of the fear of syphilis. In England, a 14-year-old was worth 100 pounds, but parents could sell a beautiful preadolescent for 400 pounds. In his 1885 newspaper expose, journalist W. T. Stead reported being sickened by the sight of children, three to five years old, being chloroformed before serving as sex partners for adult men. Around that time, the anonymous author of My Secret Life complained of the difficulties of penetrating prepubescent girls, though he had no moral compunctions about it. “It is the fate of such girls to be fucked young,” he asserted, “neither laws social or legal can prevent it.”
Sex historian Vern Bullough points out that the Industrial Revolution brought a sharp increase in the sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children. Until then, such activity seems to have been relatively rare, although sexual relations between adults and adolescents have always been common and, frequently, culturally sanctioned. In modern times, however, there are more documented cases of adult males assaulting younger children. As a newspaper reporter in 1949, Bullough observed a two-and-a-half-year-old girl who was “taken to surgery with a mangled vagina and a damaged urethra.” She had been raped by her father. His editor refused to publish the story, saying he ran a “family newspaper” unfit for such items.
Four years later, the famed Kinsey report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), revealed that 24 percent of respondents “had been approached while they were pre-adolescent [13 or younger] by adult males who appeared to be making sexual advances, or who had made sexual contacts with the child.” Despite this alarming statistic, the authors implied that the victims were responsible: “Repetition [of preadolescent contacts with adults] had most frequently occurred … with relatives who lived in the same household. In many instances, the experiences were repeated because the children had become interested in the sexual activity and had more or less actively sought repetitions.” They concluded that there was really nothing to worry about: “We have only one clear-cut case of serious injury done to the child, and a very few instances of vaginal bleeding which, however, did not appear to do any appreciable damage.” Wardell Pomeroy, one of the Kinsey report authors, went even further in 1976, telling aPenthouse interviewer: “Incest between adults and younger children can also prove to be a satisfying and enriching experience, although difficulties can certainly arise.”
With some male psychologists expressing such opinions, it is little wonder that women and many men were finally becoming vocally outraged by the 1970s. In 1975, Susan Brownmiller published Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape . Although her book was primarily a blistering attack on male attitudes toward rape, Brownmiller also made the connection with incest: “The unholy silence that shrouds the inter-family sexual abuse of children and prevents a realistic appraisal of its true incidence and meaning is rooted in the same patriarchal philosophy of sexual private property that shaped and determined historic male attitudes toward rape.”
Incest victims began to speak out in women’s groups and in books. In 1974, Ellen Bass, a young feminist creative writing instructor, received a crumpled half-sheet of paper from a shy student. “Her writing was so vague, so tentative,” Bass recalls, “that I wasn’t sure what she was trying to say, but I sensed that it was important.” Slowly, with encouragement, the student wrote about the pain of her father’s sexual assaults. Shortly afterward, probably because their teacher shared similar stories, one woman after the other wrote horror stories for Bass. “I was stunned by the number of women who had been sexually abused,” she says. “I was deeply moved by the anguish they had endured.”
In 1978, Bass and five women from her Boston writing workshops began collecting stories for an anthology. Their timing was perfect. That same year, Louise Armstrong published Kiss Daddy Goodnight , which included many incest accounts, and therapist Sandra Butler’s Conspiracy of Silence: The Trauma of Incest came out. Other books and articles quickly followed, authored by David Finkelhor, Christine Courtois, Florence Rush, Judith Herman, Elizabeth Ward, Angie Ash, and others. Swiss psychologist Alice Miller exerted a tremendous influence when her work about traumatized children was translated into English. By the time Bass published her 1983 anthology, incest was a subject of great interest among the general public.
Very little of this early material about incest mentioned repressed memories, though Freud had made the concept of repression a theoretical given. Most of the women who were finally speaking out had never had any trouble remembering that they had been abused. It was all too real for them. Their problem was being unable to forget it.Even the title of the 1983 Bass anthology, I Never Told Anyone , implied that although the victims of incest had remained silent all these years, they had never forgotten. Often, they revealed confused, mixed feelings about their experience. Jean Monroe, whose father fondled her breasts from the time she was nine until her teens, spoke of the “terrible betrayal” of her trust, but she also said, “As an adult I’ve always been very happy sexually. Somehow I got an affirmative sense of my own personal sexual power from my father.”
The notion of repressed incest memories had been quietly growing during the 1970s, however. In 1975, for instance, the director of a Philadelphia sex offender program told an audience of psychotherapists: “If the sexual attack is dealt with improperly or repressed it may cause serious psychological problems.” Louise Armstrong’s Kiss Daddy Goodnight , published in 1978, contained the story of Jenny, who told her: “Until about a year ago I had no awareness that any of it had happened. I had completely removed it from any form of consciousness.” Indeed, Armstrong herself “recovered” a memory of oral sex that purportedly occurred when she was 14. And Sandra Butler’s Conspiracy of Silence contained the story of Evelyn, who was “flooded with [incest] memories which had been repressed…. Even now, the memory has an unreal feeling to it.”